Speaking Truth to Power by Anita Hill, first half review

anitahillFor reasons I’ll discuss below, I have had to put this book down at about the halfway point, through no fault of Anita Hill’s absorbing story or lovely, clear, honest writing. This first review will be more about my emotional reactions and reason for pausing in my reading; soon I will publish my second-half-review which will be more about the book itself. Briefly, for the record, it’s a great book.

Anita Hill was a young black female lawyer from the south in the early 1980’s, when she found herself employed as an assistant to Clarence Thomas, then an aspiring government official looking for an appointment under President Bush (Senior). She was largely successful in leaving behind her unpleasant experiences in his employment as she moved onto other lines of work, teaching law back in her home state of Oklahoma, where she could be closer to her family and further from the nasty environment Thomas created for her in Washington, D.C. When Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1991, however, she reconsidered her silence on his sexual harassment, and ended up traveling to D.C. to testify at his confirmation hearing as to his behavior nearly 10 years earlier. She was excoriated for her decision and her actions; every piece of her life, her morals, her “virtue” were picked apart. This book is her attempt to set the record straight.

Most Americans know the name Anita Hill, in my (limited) survey. When I mentioned this book, a coworker spoke of having horrible, vivid dreams, set in the Senate, as the hearings went on; she sympathized with Hill’s unfortunate position. I am young enough that I don’t remember these events (I was 9 in 1991 and not paying much attention to sexual harassment and Supreme Court nominations, for which I suppose I’m glad); it’s history to me. However, the name Anita Hill did mean something to me, and it means much more now.

I am reading this book because my father raved about it and felt it was important reading for me, which I easily believed. And it’s a lovely book. But it so happens that I picked it up during a time when my personal life was in upheaval in a few ways. I don’t want to share too many personal details here (I’d rather get personal when the news is good!) but it involved my loved ones being spread around the globe dealing with various trauma, and I was distracted, worried, and depressed. And unfortunately, one of the central truths of Hill’s book, based on events in 1982 and 1991 and published in 1997, holds true today: that most women will be sexually harassed; that most will choose not to accuse their harassers; and that few harassers are sanctioned. Again, without revealing too much of my personal story, I know this firsthand. And reading about Hill’s experiences, both being harassed by Thomas, and then being harassed by her national media and political representatives, was entirely too painful to me. I felt physically sick to my stomach reading it, and I had to put it down.

I still agree with my father’s statements that this is a very good book, and that it’s an important book for me to read. I look forward to picking it back up – as I write this, personal-life issues are mostly resolved, and (thank goodness!) Husband is home here with me. Hill writes like a lawyer: she makes statements of what she knows to be true, and is careful to note where she speculates, while providing evidence to support her speculations. She speaks strongly where she is sure that she is right; and (as one would expect) she has a very sure and confident grasp of legal issues in their minutia, and is capable of making those legal details understandable to her reader. I also really enjoy her gentle, loving treatment of her family history; that background adds to her story immeasurably.

I wanted to give you this first-half-review of this book where I’ve paused in my reading of it, to note the painful emotional impact it’s had on me. Make no mistake, it’s a fine book and I will finish it and tell you more very soon. But for now, know that this story is rather excruciating.

Rating: 8 brave public statements.

9 Responses

  1. your description of Hill’s writing approach in this book is superb; your personal disclosure of it’s impact is humbling – and speaks to the tragedy of Hill’s story as both personal and universal; it’s terrible that the book is so overlooked, yet understandable since such truths about the dark side of our “civilization” are so disquieting to almost any reader

    • Thanks, Pops. I was hoping you’d chime in – maybe you can give me a quick story about your own response, and why you were so firm in recommending it to me? It is a beautiful book, and so disturbing…

  2. I am old enough to remember the events surrounding Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and I must read this book. Thanks for being so honest about its effect on you. I’ll look forward to your thoughts when you finish it.

  3. “that most women will be sexually harassed; that most will choose not to accuse their harassers; and that few harassers are sanctioned.” Very, very true.

    This made me think of Les Miserables, of all things. I just saw the movie (I may see it again) and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack. And there’s Fantine, some 200 years ago, losing her job for refusing to sleep with her boss. There have been changes in those two centuries, but not fundamental ones.

  4. […] the second half of this book, in all the right ways. You will recall (or, I will direct you to) my first half review of same: I thought it was a wonderful book but such a painful story that I had to put it down for a […]

  5. […] Truth to Power, Anita Hill (nonfiction): here and […]

  6. […] Anita’s story before, when watching Confirmation and reading Speaking Truth to Power (in two parts). Looking back at those reviews, I guess I’m feeling the way I did with that first of […]

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